Top 10: Instrumental Hip-Hop Projects of 2020

Worldwide FM’s newest producer and programmer Will Asare, resident beat tape connoisseur, takes us through his top 10 instrumental hip-hop releases of 2020.

Hip-hop relies on both beats (production) and vocal tracks (rap). Instrumental hip-hop allows the producer flexibility to create more detailed and complex instrumentals. J Dilla, RJD2 and Madlib are some key influencers of the genre.

Knxwledge — 1988 [Stones Throw]

Known for his consistent output and sample mangling he has worked with the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Anderson Paak. This 22-track release sees Knxwledge combines r&b and soul vocal samples, rap a cappella and archive hip-hop interviews (a Knxwledge speciality). 1988 is mixed in a very old school style, with some tape hiss and vinyl crackle keeping the beats nostalgic.

Madlib & Freddie Gibbs — Bandana Beats [Madlib Invazion]

This is the instrumental LP of Bandana from Madlib and Freddie Gibbs. I’m a fan of the vocal LP and their previous joint project Piñata, their styles complement each other well. The production is classic Madlib, needless to say he has an amazing ear, but this release highlights his ear for samples and finding loops within them, especially evident in ‘Crime Pays’. Fun fact: Madlib produced all the beats just on an iPad!

Nothing Neue — Amani [Self-release]

Nothing Neue is a producer from New York. Amani is a very cohesive body of work which manages to combine hip-hop, soul, electronic and dance music. On a first listen, pay attention to ‘Bloom’, with its lush synths and heavy drums, and ‘Sent Down’ which boasts a very funky bass line. Despite the huge mix of musical influences audible on this release, Neue maintains a clear and fresh musical identity.

Fat Beats Baker’s Dozen XIII [Fat Beats Records]

Bakers Dozen is a series that shines a spotlight on instrumental beats and their personalities, currently on its 13th and final release. This tape includes tunes from the likes of Statik Selector, Madlib and Tokimonsta. I was especially taken with ‘Right With The Night’ from Tokimonsta, with smooth Rhodes piano and loose drums. It’s a relaxed contrast to her normal electronic style which makes for laid back nighttime listening.

Kaelin Ellis — Moments [Self-release]

Hailing from Florida, Kaelin Ellis has been making beats for at least 9 years. He’s collaborated with the likes of Sango and Kaytranada and recently put out a joint EP with rapper Lupe Fiasco. Moments bridges the divide between LA beat music and live jazz, Ellis plays all the instruments you hear on this tape. My favourite of these short, leaves-you-wanting-more tracks is ‘SWIM’, I’m a sucker for very unorthodox drum patterns, piano and beats with swing.

Omari Jazz — Dream Child [Self-release]

This is a very atmospheric album. Immersive, even. You could argue that it’s not quite hip-hop, what with some of the jazzy drum samples we’re treated to and the reliance live instrumentation. Regardless, this ambient/hip-hop/jazz release is a very impressive body of work from the Portlandian. Title-track ‘Dream Child’ sets the tone for this fusing of worlds, with drums, harp and the vocal line interacting in an etherial space.

Smart Bomb — Water for the Town V.2

Smart Bomb is a monthly fixture in Oakland California, which showcases artists on the local beat scene. Water for the Town is like a soundtrack of sorts, interesting for it’s refusal to adhere to straight hip-hop or ‘beats’ territory. For example ‘Heru — My Psyche’ uses a bossa nova vocal sample with very compressed drums. A perfect example of beat music as a playground for the combination of wide-ranging samples. All proceeds go to a variety of worthy causes, check their Bandcamp page to support.

Ras G — Raw Fruit Vol 5.6 [FB Distribution]

The late Ras G was an inspiration to me with his blend of rap, reggae and afro futuristic sounds. Before he passed he managed to complete Raw Fruit Vol 5.6, a throwback to previous Raw Fruit tapes. It was released on SP404 day, paying homage to one of his key beat-making tools. Ras said he was heavily inspired by Sun Ra, so the outer-space-soul-jam mood he creates is no surprise. ‘Love Was’ is a great example of his soulful chops.

AntMan Wonder — We’re all just having fun here [Self-release]

AntMan Wonder is a producer from Philadelphia currently living Los Angeles. He’s perhaps most known for co-producing Anderson Paak’s single ‘Bubblin’. The name of this release is a great signifier to its contents. No one style takes precedence, you can hear he had a lot of fun creating this tape. ‘Headband’ is almost jazz fusion in the second half of the song. ‘Super Saturday’ sounds like something out of the ‘Zero’ video game series, mixed with trap drums and 808s. This release is a fantastic marker for the versatility of instrumental hip-hop as a style.

bad snacks — bathtub bumps [Self-release]

Another release that demonstrates the versatility and malleability of instrumental hip-hop, which can pull from almost any musical discipline. Portland-based electronic/experimental hip-hop producer bad snacks is also a classically trained violinist and talented chef. This contemplative and relaxing tape contains absolute corkers like ‘Autumn’, with piano, swung drums and wind chimes as a percussive element. ‘Same Water, Different Seas’ has a chill guitar riff and a very minimal, out at sea atmosphere. I’m a big fan after this tape and looking forward to new releases.

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